New COVID Stimulus Package Makes Illegal Streaming a Felony

In the coming days, Congress will likely pass a year-end COVID-19 relief package tied with an appropriations bill that will fund the government for the next year. The relief package features a $900 billion relief package for various organizations and government entities across the country. In addition to $15 billion in funding for movie theaters and the live entertainment industry and $600 direct payments to most Americans, the bill — which can be read here — will also make it a felony to profit off illegal streaming methods.

Though the package has yet to pass and be signed into law, it's expected the House will vote on it Monday afternoon with the Senate to follow shortly thereafter. Once signed into law, the new policies will establish rougher criminal penalties for those who "willfully, and for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain, offer or provide to the public a digital transmission service."

The felony could result in a prison sentence of three years, or a harsher five-year prison sentence if the aforementioned digital transmission includes more than one movie or television show.

The bill also revamps copyright and trademark law, creating a small claims court to be used for litigation in regards to copyright claims. Those who would pursue copyright violations in the court would not be able to win over $30,000 in damages.

It's also the most sweeping bill Congress has taken up on the situation since 2012's failed Stop Online Piracy Act. Then, both consumers and industry insiders opposed the regulations up for debate.

Though Hollywood has gotten back to work for the most part, streaming is still a major focus for most studios in Tinsel Town. In addition to WarnerMedia deciding to put its theatrical releases on HBO Max on the same date as the film's theatrical release, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige has also confirmed his studio is focusing primarily on streaming for the foreseeable future.

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"Streaming is 100 percent the future and where consumers want to watch things," Feige told this month's Emmy Magazine covered by WandaVision. "And hopefully they'll want to watch our longform narrative series. An experience like WandaVision is something you can't get in a movie. You go to movies for things you can't get on streaming, and you go to streaming for things you can't get in a theater. And of course, everything in a theater goes to streaming eventually."

Cover photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images